Behind the Firewall, the New York Times' ostensible expert on the Middle East writes,
When you watch the violence unfolding in the Middle East today it is easy to feel that you’ve been to this movie before and that you know how it ends - badly. But we actually have not seen this movie before. Something new is unfolding, and we’d better understand it.This is new? Are we using geological measures of time? (Ten thousand years ago there were no elections at all, and now, suddenly....)
What we are seeing in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon is an effort by Islamist parties to use elections to pursue their long-term aim of Islamizing the Arab-Muslim world.
While Friedman suggests that this phenomenon is mostly a concern in nations like Iraq or Lebanon, or in the Palestinian Territories, where political factions may also contol their own militias. Is it truly a secret to Thomas Friedman that there have long been significant concerns over the possibility that democratic elections in the Middle East that anti-Western and Islamist groups may gain power or even control of the government if free elections were truly permitted in Saudi Arabia or Egypt?
The world needs to understand what is going on here: the little flowers of democracy that were planted in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories are being crushed by the boots of Syrian-backed Islamist militias who are desperate to keep real democracy from taking hold in this region and Iranian-backed Islamist militias desperate to keep modernism from taking hold.Is the problem, then, that there are Islamist parties, that there are parties which control militias, or just that there are Islamist parties that control militias? And in which of those regions are the Islamist parties actually complaining about democracy, or fearing that it might spread? When you're winning elections you generally want democracy to spread (even if you aren't particularly to maintaining it in the longer-term).
To Friedman, democracy seems to mean "You should hold free and fair elections, and vote for whomever you want... as long as you elect the right person and party." Am I wrong, or are the shifts in mindset required for democracy and progressive government to take hold largely generational in nature - if you grow up with them, they seem like second-nature, but they're hard to impose upon a population which is used to something else. (And, unfortunately, they seem easier to tear down than to build up.) To state the obvious, even in the absence of private militias holding an election, even if it is free or fair, is no guarantee that a nation will be transformed into a democracy, nor is it a guarantee that the elected leader will be the person Thomas Friedman would prefer.